Carlisle United boss Keith Curle says he is ‘surprised’ the Cobblers are the runaway leaders of Sky Bet League Two.
Town travel to face the Cumbrians at Brunton Park on Saturday sitting 11 points clear at the top, and protecting a 12-match unbeaten run that included a record-breaking 10-match winning streak.
The Cobblers have also lost just once in their past 21 league two games, an emphatic run that began with a 3-2 win over Carlisle at Sixfields on October 20.
In the past two months they have beaten four of the other six teams in the top seven, and are unbeaten on the road since losing 2-1 at Cambridge United back on October 17, chalking up eight wins and two draws in their 10 trips since that day at the Abbey Stadium.
But that record doesn’t overly impress former Mansfield Town boss Curle, who feels the best team Carlisle have come up against this season is Portsmouth, who are currently fifth in the table - 22 points worse off than the Cobblers.
“If there had been one team I’d have said would run away with the division, based on the performances in the games we’ve played against them, I would probably have said Portsmouth,” said Curle, whose team are 25 points behind the Cobblers.
“Northampton, because of the showing we gave them down there, I am surprised.
“But they have spent some money, after having had some difficulty with the ownership of the club, and players and staff not being paid.
“Sometimes that [sort of situation] creates a unity and togetherness, a feeling you are all in it together.
“When results start flying in, sometimes you go out and no matter what you do, you win, which is nice.
“That’s something I don’t seem to get at the minute but sometimes you are asked if you would either be a good manager or a lucky manager, and I’ll take lucky any day of the week.”
Curle accepts his play-off chasing team, who needed a late equaliser to salvage a 2-2 home draw with Leyton Orient on Tuesday night, face a challenge against Northampton, but that his players are ready to meet that head on.
“It is a challenge, and the pleasing thing is that the players won’t shy away from it,” said Curle.
“The players won’t be scared. We will be respectful [of Northampton], do our due diligence on them, our background work, and come up with a plan - but the players will still have freedom to express themselves.
“It is a massive game for us, a good game as well, and an opportunity against the runaway leaders of the division, who are undefeated in a number of games. How do we compare?
“Down there we caused them big problems. They know we will be a very competitive animal.”
Cobblers boss Chris Wilder has stated that he is expecting a tough encounter at Brunton Park, and agreed with Curle the hosts will be competitive, saying: “It was a tight game when we played them at Sixfields.
“They were on a good run at the time, and they were a dangerous outfit.
“It was a real end-to-end game and we managed to score in a good period, and we were comfortable in the second half up until the last five minutes when they scored and put us on the back foot.
“But it will be a tight game and I expect nothing less, as it is two decent sides in good nick and have it all to play for.”